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Movement to reform police pursuits gaining ground
by E-R Staff

January 7, 2004—Across the United States, the movement to reform police-pursuit practices is gaining ground, according to Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina.

These days, "most progressive (police) departments don't chase stolen cars," said Alpert, a widely recognized expert who has been studying police pursuits for 20 years.

Some agencies, such as the Boston and Miami police departments and the Illinois State Police, only allow officers to chase suspects who are believed to have committed violent felonies, he said.

Alpert said he thinks that should be the standard for pursuit policies.

Unfortunately, he said, there are still many departments around the country where police pursue vehicles over minor traffic offenses.

Jim Phillips, a Florida resident whose daughter was killed in a collision resulting from a police pursuit, maintains a Web site devoted to police-pursuit reform. It can be found at www.pursuitwatch.org. Another Web site, run by a police officer, that gathers reports on injuries and deaths due to pursuits is at www.policedriving.com.

Phillips said about a dozen police officers and citizens who have lost family members because of police pursuits have formed a group, PursuitWatch, which collects data and promotes reforms.

The federal government's official estimate of fatalities caused by police pursuits is about 360 a year, Phillips said. But he thinks, from information he's gathered, the actual number of deaths may be twice that high.

According to Alpert, the public doesn't know a lot about police pursuits. But the more they find out, he said, the less they support giving officers broad discretion in chasing vehicles.

© Copyrighted article reprinted with permission.

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